Eight Practical Thoughts on Youth Athletic Development

Today, I wanted to share with you some personal thoughts regarding youth athletic development. Youth athletic development fundamentals. I was inspired by a podcast on Upside Strength and it nudged me to think about the things I feel are pertinent to youth athletic development. There is a myriad of insightful and educative content online but today, I wanted to convey what is important to me, at this present moment, and share this with you. So, before I dive into this I want to remind you of a fable.

‘There was once a speedy hare who bragged about how fast he could run, tired of hearing him boast, slow and steady, the tortoise, challenged him to a race. All the animals in the forest gathered to watch.

Hare ran down the road for a while and then paused to rest. He looked back at the tortoise and cried out, “How do you expect to win this race when you are walking along your slow, slow pace?”

The Hare stretched himself out alongside the road and fell asleep, thinking “There is plenty of time to relax”.

Next thing you know, the crowd roared and cheered the tortoise, which woke up the Hare. Alarmed at this, the Hare made a desperate attempt to run toward the finish line, but it was too late, he had lost. Slow and steady wins the race.’ Take this story as you will but it will flow nicely into my first point.”

Long term athletic development – A process not a sprint to the finish line.

What is our overarching goal? What is our endpoint and how do we assess the success of our program?

Start with the end in mind. For me, a number one overarching goal is making sure youth athletes are enjoying the training process. There is probably not going to be any sort of Long term development if the kids are dropping out due to burnout or lack of interest in furthering their training. This does not mean you have to come into training dressed like a clown, nor does it mean that we go so far along this spectrum that it turns into a holiday camp. But the idea of ‘slow cooking’ your youngsters reducing the risk of burnout and increasing engagement, could be down to the environment you create and how you are delivering sessions.

Those who work in the field of athletic development will have heard the terms “repetition without repetition” or “design the task, not the solution” once youngsters learn the skill, the subsequent intent through a game or challenge can facilitate the key adaptations we seek.

Education- ‘give a man a fish you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime’

If you have ever witnessed athletes executing their sessions with autonomy and minimal input from the coach, you will realise how rewarding it is. Additionally, it also gratifying when you see youngsters assisting each other by correcting technique or by encouraging each other through a tougher workout. This generally comes from a young athlete learning the training process and taking ownership. I have seen great success with this through guided discovery and questioning, for example asking young athletes ‘why are we doing this particular drill?’ and ‘What benefits will we derive from it?’. Ideally, I would love to reach a point where an athlete can start to design their own programs for themselves, and ask us what we think!

Give them what they are not getting- ‘more of the same isn’t necessarily a good thing’

I am quite passionate about this particular point. Give them what they are not getting. I have witnessed youth sports in a variety of environments. I have noticed a trend. They will typically spend the majority of their day in a classroom, then be expected to play highly dynamic and chaotic sports without any real physical preparation, sometimes, not even an adequate warm up. Now your argument may be “this is what schools and sporting organisations have been doing for years!” This doesn’t mean that it is the right thing and it can accompany unnecessary injuries. As a former school strength and conditioning coach, a goal was to give the kids missing parts of the development puzzle. “Where can I have the most impact?” Typically, this was in the form of quality strength, speed and corrective work, due to my limited contact time. I regarded these as a high priority with respect to physical preparation.

Bouncy athletes- Restoring the bounce’

Playing football in the street or running around in asymmetric environments, is no longer a commonality. A time where kids used to jump fences, climb walls and crawl under objects is now being replaced by Xbox live. Now, no need to be overly dramatic. But, we need to recognise this and think about ways which we can replicate that in some form, within our own training environments. All the aforementioned activities enhanced the kids physiologic springs in the musculotendinous units that enabled children to clear the fences or leap from one rock to the other. If we think of sports performance, tendon and muscle stiffness are hugely important for force transfer. Therefore, I love low amplitude, extensive plyometric exercises, such as pogo jumps or hops in a variety of planes to allow them to express this potential.

Get them strong- Injury occurs when the load exceeds the capacity at that particular time’- Keir Wenham Flatt

A rather obvious maxim but this doesn’t always mean just adding more plates to the barbell in the sagittal plane. I also mean exposure to a mix of strength exercises in a variety of ranges and planes of motion that they may need to utilise in their sport, in the case of tennis strength in the frontal plane is vital. Moreover, I think it’s prudent to expose kids to a wide variation of movement skills to add to their movement toolbox.

Peak height velocity- ‘A period of accelerated growth’

Peak height provides a unique challenge to young athletes with a good proportion of them experiencing adolescent awkwardness, symptoms can include aches and pains, and a big one is a loss of coordination. This can be very frustrating for a young athlete. Personally, I find it important to measure growth and adapt the program where a rapid increase in height and subsequent symptoms are evident. Adaptations to the program could be more variation, reduced loading and increased complexity to the exercise selection.

Nutrition and recovery principles‘you wouldn’t put diesel in a Ferrari and expect to go anywhere’

I’m going to split this section into two parts and distinctly talk about each;


I usually start small with this, as you will be surprised at how many do not know how good quality nutrition is helpful to their performance (and life!). In order to avoid paralysis by analysis try to reinforce small daily habits. A quote from the 5am club “small daily habits, lead to long lasting change”. Many do not eat breakfast or drink enough water, that’s a good start point. I have had great success through ‘snap and send’. They will take pictures of their breakfast, then they are given feedback. Create a sense of community around this, encourage the youngsters to share their breakfasts with each other and collaborate some ideas!


Many struggle with the concept of recovery, I think this is a societal issue after all the “Grind never stops” right?  But, when we are concerned with peak performance this type of mind-set is unsustainable and quickly ends in a train wreck. The stimulus- fatigue- recovery- adaptation model, in short, states that training stimuli produced is influenced by the magnitude of the training stressor. The more fatigue accumulated the longer delay before complete recovery and adaptation can occur. As the athlete recovers from and adapts to the training stimulus, fatigue will dissipate and preparedness and performance increases. Now, we take models with a pinch of salt but many nuances to stress-response theory have a similar message, recovery is hugely important! Pulling athletes back can be one of the most difficult things but this links to my point about education.

Make them better for their sport- ‘How is this helping me?’

Finally, I want to finish by making this point. I believe, that as a strength and conditioners we are offering a service and supporting the athlete. We are employed by parents and sporting organisations to provide holistic physical development so athletes are healthy, robust and can express their peak performance in their relevant sport. I find that the language and communication that we use, to describe what we do, creates a better buy in from athletes and stakeholders when we link it to the sport in question. How is this helping me? You may find two athletes, who play different sports, completing a similar exercise however, this exercise may carry benefits which are relevant for both narratives. The language you use is key!

Thanks for reading Guys!

Konrad McKenzie

Strength and conditioning coach


Follow me on instagram @konrad_mcken

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How Isometrics Can Enhance Physical Potential

Hi guys,

Welcome back to the APA blog. We took a short break last week and today we are going to immerse ourselves in a topic which I have recently found interesting over the past few months. Training using isometrics. What is it and how can it be programmed. I will talk about:

What is an isometric contraction?

Why may you use isometrics?

Training transfer

How may this look like in a program?

What is an isometric contraction?

As we know muscles have three primary actions eccentric, isometric and concentric contractions. Physiologically, an isometric contraction occurs when there is no movement or change in length of the muscle itself, for example pushing against pins in a quarter squat position. Check out the video below to view this in action! Here we see the muscles working maximally but notice how there is no change in movement.

Alex Natara also mentions “Quasi-isometric contractions” which is defined as a short isometric burst in order to perform a sports specific task. A quasi-isometric or dynamic isometric occurs when rapid ‘stiffness’ is needed to produce a sports specific action, for example planting the leg during an outside cut. This differs to traditional methods of isometrics for example holding a wall sit for a set period of time.

Interesting point: Whilst the old adage suggests an isometric contraction is characterised by no change in muscle length, Jay Schoder indicates that the muscle is actually slowly shortening and the tendons lengthen resulting in no net movement.

“In this scenario where the joint of the athlete is not moving, the muscle is actually slowly shortening, while the tendon is slowly lengthening, and the total net movement is zero since the joint doesn’t go anywhere.  This is the reason that in the Jay Schoeder system, isometric exercises are often referred to as “extreme slows” (although there is another form of extreme slow exercise here, but I won’t expand on it now for the sake of simplicity).”


What are the various Isometric themes?

To my knowledge, there are four types of isometric themes or exercise types, I will briefly explain each.

  • Overcoming isometrics are attempting to move an immovable object by pushing or pulling on it.

  • Yielding isometrics can be defined as the attempt to hold a weight or position without succumbing to the forces of gravity.

  • Extreme isometrics are characterized by very long duration holds (up to 5 minutes), at large joint angles. Importantly, there is not only a large demand placed on an athlete’s physiology but also mental and emotional integrity!
  • Oscillatory isometrics have received meteoric popularity. They are characterized by a contract-relax cycle. The ability to rapidly relax and contract a muscle. Practically, this requires the athlete to tense the prime mover responsible for concentric movement and then release it as fast as possible. This will look like a bouncing motion.

“Faster athletes are fast, not only because of fast-twitch muscle, but because of the relaxation ability of muscle.  Slower athletes cannot “turn off” muscles fast enough!”  Joel smith



Why you may consider using isometrics?


There are a number of reported benefits of using isometric exercises, you may even use them already without realising the specific rationales, but I have learnt that it takes skill; to purposefully apply a particular training method with an understanding of its intention.

The benefits are well reported in literature but I would like to outline a few in this blog:

  • Improved tendon and joint health
  • Minimal muscle soreness
  • Increased neural drive and efficiency
  • Increased work capacity
  • Can aid in training recovery
  • Strength through sticking points
  • Strength in ranges of motion particular to your sport

Now, what I particularly like about isometrics is the diversity of benefits from increased neural drive to enhancing training recovery. If we work in a team sport setting and we have tight game day turnarounds we want to limit soreness where we can whilst reaching similar weekly training volumes. The beauty of isometrics is also their strategic implementation in a training year. We can also use sensory isometrics as an ‘activation’ part of the warm up to enhance neural drive to key muscle groups, I personally have seen a lot of benefit in this. Arguably, we can reach new heights in sport specificity, with isometric training, for example intramuscular and intermuscular coordination through oscillatory isometrics, in similar joint angles seen in the context of the sport.

Training transfer?


We can all agree that we are interested in the training that make our athletes better in their sport. ‘No fluff’. There are a few blogs that have been written about training transfer but I think isometrics, if used intelligently, can transfer to the sport. I will suggest only a few reasons, as this will warrant a blog of its own. Firstly, specificity is subjective to many coaches, I believe that it operates on a continuum and you have to figure out what is appropriate for the athlete at that particular time. Check out my blog on ‘training the youth athlete, how specific to the sport do we have to be’.

If we look at the physiology of many sports, particularly team and court based sports, it requires short isometric bursts at various joint angles, in sprinting, jumping and change of direction. We see this through quasi-isometric contractions (stiffness) mentioned above. Additionally, athletes need to maintain their shapes, whilst overcoming the forces such as gravity. In sprinting if the athlete does not possess enough stiffness at the ankle joint then they will be unable to transfer and absorb force to and from the ground, another example may be in Rugby Union where a prop forward needs to maintain their shape in a scrum.

How may this look in a training program?


This is the question that I have always asked myself, so I researched it. Many roads lead to Rome, but I would like to give you a few scenarios where you may use this sort of training. A concise blog I have based this article on gives a few examples of how to incorporate isometrics into a program. I will outline some of their ideas and perhaps, you can get creative in your own environment and sports which will require a needs analysis.


Extreme isometrics

A good start point seems to incorporating some extreme isometrics using bodyweight variations. Some coaches call these “burners” but these particular type of isometrics increase the work capacity of the muscle, some coaches like to work up to five minutes but this will depend on the individual. The article advises two to three minutes broken up into smaller chunks of time.


  1. 10 seconds on, 10 seconds break
  2. 20 seconds on, 10 seconds break
  3. 30 seconds on, 10 seconds break
  4. 40 seconds on, done

Due to the reported reduced muscle soreness with this type of training it is possible to increase training frequency!


Overcoming isometrics

True overcoming isometrics require maximal voluntary contraction, as a result a participant will experience high levels of motor unit recruitment, making this a perfect modality for contrast training. Additionally, coaches have used it in programs alone in specific joint angles for the sports they’re working with for example, ankle and hip extension in the top end of sprint performance.  Some elite coaches have suggested that they have seen immediate improvements in their flying 10m sprint speed as a result of using specific isometric work.

“An example of how you might incorporate this type of work into a weekly session if having 2 intense training days in a week would be:

  • Day 1: 30m acceleration starts, standing triple jump, hex bar deadlift
  • Day 2: Flying 10m sprints superset/coupled with overcoming plantar flexion ISO or overcoming hip extension ISO, hurdle hops.”


Oscillatory isometrics

The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble Harrington Emerson

You can implement this type of method for any exercise, the skill is knowing how and when. In well adapted athletes there seems to be debate as to the transfer of traditional barbell exercises to athletic performance. These are probably best reserved for the “specific” phase of the training year. Also known as “reflexive power” these exercises can be used on dynamic effort days or again, contrasted with more traditional barbell lifts.

Unlock your athletes potential and thanks for reading guys!

Konrad Mckenzie

Strength and conditioning coach


Follow me on instagram @konrad_mcken


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Since you’re here…
…we have a small favor to ask.  APA aim to bring you compelling content from the world of sports science and coaching.  We are devoted to making athletes fitter, faster and stronger so they can excel in sport. Please take a moment to share the articles on social media, engage the authors with questions and comments below, and link to articles when appropriate if you have a blog or participate on forums of related topics. — APA TEAM

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